Small Foundations and Public Policy

Stay informed and participate in public policy debates to ensure that legislators incorporate the unique perspectives of small foundations.

Key policy players

Independent Sector provides up-to-date information on legislation in Congress that affects foundations and nonprofits. We recommend starting here to stay informed.

Council on Foundations has a legal and political staff and two especially powerful constituent groups: larger, institutional foundations and community foundations. Its legislative agenda includes flattening the excise tax, restoring powers lost by community foundations in the Pension Protection Act of 2006, and, although not explicit, preserving foundation payout at 5%.

The Philanthropy Roundtable has stepped up its political activities in recent years to promote philanthropic freedom. The Philanthropic Collaborative, which conducts research to quantify the economic value of charity, and the Alliance for Charitable Reform, which lobbies, have emerged from the Roundtable.

Council of Michigan Foundations has perhaps the greatest capacity for and history of policy work of any statewide association of grantmakers, as does its peer organization Philanthropy Northwest.

Two watchdog groups: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, distinguished for calling on foundations to elevate their focus on marginalized populations, and The Greenlining Institute, an emerging player most well known for promoting legislation in California that would require the largest foundations to disclose the ethnicity of their staff, board, grantees, and those served by grantees.

Do your part

You can help your elected officials better understand and appreciate the value of private giving in your state or district, given your leadership in your community. Members of Congress welcome input from their constituents, especially those with expertise on particular issues. 

Start here:

Identify your state and federal legislators at www.congress.org. It is also important to know who sits on the House Ways and Means CommitteeSenate Finance Committee, and Joint Committee on Taxation

Know which issues interest your legislators. Whether economic development or health care, education or agriculture, every legislator holds a handful of issues near and dear. It can be handy to know which legislators’ interests align with yours, particularly when bills are before Congress that affect your work.

Contact your legislators on issues of importance to you, by phone or e-mail before you need their help. Be proactive in letting them know who you are and what you do. Use real stories about how your support has made a difference in your community. If appropriate, share a list of grants you’ve made, your annual report if you have one, or press that highlights your work or your grantees. Note: Don’t underestimate the importance of legislative staff. Often they will be the ones you are working with closely. You will often make contact with staff first, and they can be invaluable in keeping you and the legislator informed.

Visit your legislators when they are in your home state or district. The August recess or shorter recesses in conjunction with Memorial Day or Independence Day are great times to meet your legislators. Visit the House of Representatives or the Senate for scheduled recesses.

Find power in numbers. Organize a small group of funders to visit your legislators together or invite one of your grantees to join you.

Let us know where you stand. Together we can be a voice for more and better philanthropy in the United States. If you are interested in advocating for legislation that strengthens and expands the charitable sector, be in touch. Your voice can make a difference.

Additional Resources

Funding and Engaging in Advocacy: Opportunities for Small Foundations 
Learn how advocacy can leverage your resources. 

Bolder Advocacy 
Access a wide range of materials on lobbying and advocacy for funders and nonprofits. 

Foundations on the Hill 
Find tools to schedule and prepare for visits with your legislators, either in your home state or district or as part of the annual event in Washington, DC. 

ASF maintains a small, strategic policy capacity. We stay alert for legislative proposals that would disproportionately hurt small funders, or proposals that would expand incentives for donors to make charitable investments. We also look for opportunities to educate elected officials about the value and impact of small foundations.